Saturday, October 8, 2016

Innovation Hiking: a recipe for trail

There have been countless studies, like this one, that show that regular exercise boosts creativity.  That’s not surprising as regular exercise is good for pretty much every ailment from the physical to the mental.   A recent study at Stanford showed that people were 60% more creative while walking vs sitting.  Awesome.  Everyone should go buy a walking desk right now.  But I believe there’s more to catalyzing  innovation than just getting the heartrate up.  Here is my argument for innovation hiking.

Action without Distraction

For getting tasks done, nothing beats two 32” monitors running separate instances of Chrome with 52 tabs open in each one.  There’s a rush as you quickly switch between tabs and tap out urgent yet non-important emails.  But you know that what you really need to do is a figure out this problem that’s been hiding somewhere in the back of your mind, waiting for some time with your brain.  You try to sit and just think about the problem, but there’s no obvious answer.  That’s why it’s a problem.  Only 15 seconds pass before you get antsy for action.  You’re not DOING anything, and the allure of the slot machine that is your computer is too strong.  

The walking desk is great, but then you still have your computer.  You can still multitask.  And multitasking is fun and addictive.  Instead, go for a walk, or even better, a HIKE.  A hike is an adventure.  It is a real recreational activity as evidenced by all the specialized gear you can purchase.  By going on a hike you are accomplishing something, taking action.  Your scenery is changing, and you no longer have reason to get antsy or bored.  And yet the creative, problem solving part of your brain is untaxed.  It is free to wander and ambles its way to that problem lurking below the surface.  While your eyes explore the landscape, your mind pokes at the problem.  New ideas pop up, eureka moments.  No need to write them down.  Once released, the insights will be accessible later.  Just keep going.  You just might accomplish more in a 45 minute hike, than in a whole day behind your desk.

The Walking One on One

I do almost all my one on one meetings with coworkers and friends as a walking meeting.  Ask yourself “Do I need a laptop for THIS meeting?”  If not, then go on a walk.  Electronic decices in meetings can be very distracting to the conversation as well as the relationship.  Studies show that the simple presence of a smartphone in a meeting lowers the quality of the conversation.  So tuck that smartphone into your pocket or purse and head out the door.  Now you can really focus on listening to each other.  You also have all the benefits of “Action without Distraction”.  As you navigate the trail, streets, or corridors, let your conversation wander as well.  What new insights come out in your conversation?  If you are trying to converge, make decisions that require data or charts, or do focused work on a presentation, you should sit at a table, a whiteboard or a laptop.  But if you want to do some divergent thinking, explore the larger issues and help each other unblock problems, then go for a hike.

Networking Hikes

What’s better than two people on a hike?  You guessed it, your whole team on a hike.  The goal of networking events and team offsites is to increase the number and strength of connections between people.  Often offsites can be fun, but you don’t get the chance to actually talk to each other (try having a conversation while go-karting).  And many typical networking events can lock people down so that they only talk to the people sitting next to them at dinner.  Hiking is ideal because it promotes conversation and fluidity.

If you pick an easy, flat, paved, and shaded trail, then it’s an activity that is accessible to most people.  Without any additional “programming” (like speeches or entertainment), this frees up people to have conversations and learn about each other.  You can have impromptu walking one on ones and group conversations.  Additionally, if you enforce a slow pace, than it allows people to move between conversations easily.  There are no seats, so it’s easy to walk up to a different group (you’re walking anyways) or take some time to yourself if needed.

Sometimes the best things in life are free.  Before you switch tabs to buy an innovation-inspiring software search tool and solutions database while listening to TED talks and drinking kombucha, try this simple technique.  Step outside, and go for a hike.